Article - What to Do When You Know That Your Project is Doomed Even Before the Initiation Stage?


Imagine the following situation:

You are an experienced project manager and you have just been invited for an interview by a large company. Your skills are a perfect fit for the project the organization is about to initiate. You have been told that that the estimated duration of the project is approximately two years and the firm is willing to pay top dollar for the right talent (for the sake of the argument let us say “$150 per hour”).

You arrive for the meeting and after a long discussion you suddenly realize that the project in question is a proverbial wild-goose chase. For example, you understand that it would not deliver any value to the company (pet project of an executive), or the constraints imposed on the venture, be it time, budget or scope, will prevent the team from the successful delivery of the final product.

If these examples are too complicated or ambiguous, imagine the following conversation:

CEO: (summoning you to her office) Hey, John! We are planning on starting a brand-new product initiative here at XYZ Inc. and I want to hire you to lead this project.

PM: (interested) OK, I am listening …

CEO: (solemnly) We are planning to build a new state-of-the-art typewriter!

PM: (surprised) A typewriter???

CEO: Yes! Internal company stakeholders are very eager to co-operate with you and provide you with all the high-level features and detailed requirements of the future device. In addition, the team will be given a reasonable budget and deadline to deliver the final product. What do you say?

PM: (shocked) But it is 2016! Nobody uses typewriters nowadays!

CEO: (angered) Well, John I can’t say that I appreciate your attitude! If you don’t think that you are ready, I think I can easily find another project manager to deliver this project for our organization.

(NOTE: If you still think that the above dialogue is completely insane, just read the “The New Ashgabat Airport” case study I have written a couple of weeks ago)


From a purely mathematical standpoint a project manager has several options at his disposal:

  • Option 1: Tell the CEO that the project in question is a horrible idea and reject the offer.
  • Option 2: Recommend certain improvements to the project (if at all possible)  but risk angering the hiring manager.
  • Option 3: Say something to the effect of “Well, I am just a project manager and I am not getting paid to make the strategic decisions. Hence I will accept the offer and we will see what happens in a couple of years”.

So, here is my question to you. If your friend ended up in a situation like that, what advice would you give her?

  1. Reject the job offer
  2. Try to change their mind but risk angering the hiring committee
  3. Accept the job offer and earn close to $300,000/year for the next two years


About the Author

Jamal Moustafaev, MBA, PMP – president and founder of Thinktank Consulting is an internationally acclaimed expert and speaker in the areas of project/portfolio management, scope definition, process improvement and corporate training. Jamal Moustafaev has done work for private-sector companies and government organizations in Canada, US, Asia, Europe and Middle East.  Read Jamal’s Blog @

Jamal is an author of three very popular books: 

  1. Delivering Exceptional Project Results: A Practical Guide to Project Selection, Scoping, Estimation and Management 
  2. Project Scope Management: A Practical Guide to Requirements for Engineering, Product, Construction, IT and Enterprise Projects
  3. Project Portfolio Management in Theory and Practice: Thirty Case Studies from around the World